Ministers Need to Be Clear That Communities Stand to Benefit From EU Solidarity Fund

27/05/2016 08:58

It is time for the Government to come clean and tell the families and businesses hit by devastating floods in December and January whether or not they'll get the cash expected from the EU Solidarity Fund or whether it'll simply be swallowed up by the Treasury.

Whilst the Government have dragged their feet on making an application, there is still the potential of hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation from the Fund - but ministers have repeatedly dodged the question on whether or not this vital EU assistance will trickle down to affected communities.

Amidst weeks of confusion and concealment from the Government, I was delighted when a minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government finally stood before Parliament back in February and confirmed that an application to the EU Solidarity Fund was to be made. But since then we've had nothing but silence from a Government that has boasted about its response to flooding.

It's now 13 weeks since the announcement, yet we remain none the wiser to the specifics of the Government's application as ministers continue to obscure the details of how and where any money will be spent. This has left MPs, constituents and the cash-strapped local authorities who shouldered much of the burden of the flooding completely in the dark about what extra assistance, if any, will be available.

The initial lack of clarity around which department had responsibility for submitting a bid only made matters worse, and we learned just over a week ago that hundreds of farmers are yet to receive a penny of the promised emergency relief funding to restore agricultural land.

And the uncertainty and obfuscation that surrounded the Government's eleventh hour bid for support have been running themes throughout the entire process, with recent responses from ministers, or lack thereof, indicating this is not about to change.

While the ABI confirmed this week that the vast majority of insurance claims for flooded homes and businesses made in the wake of December's storms are now either fully or partly paid, the Government hasn't even finalised its application for EU assistance.

Despite a 12 week window for applications to the Fund, ministers decided to leave it until the very last moment before getting the ball rolling. Further foot-dragging in submitting the necessary details mean that we are no closer to knowing the details of the Government's assessment of the damage or how much assistance ministers have sought.

The Government has not done enough to address the fears of flood-hit communities. On top of the hold-ups and ambiguity, the Environment Secretary and Local Government Minister have failed to give assurances that any assistance received from the EU Solidarity Fund will be spent in the communities affected.

My fear is that they may get nothing and the cash will be swallowed up by the Treasury. It is high time that ministers came clean and confirmed once and for all how such money would be spent.

Kerry McCarthy is the shadow environment secretary, and Labour MP for Bristol East